Professor Johann de Bono
Academic Title: Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine
Professor Johann de Bono is developing new molecular targeted therapies to improve the treatment of advanced cancer patients, specialising in drugs for advanced prostate cancer patients. He has a specific interest in biomarker-driven early clinical trials and the parallel development of biomarkers and molecularly targeted drugs. He has also focused on the development and utilization of circulating biomarkers including circulating tumour cells and circulating plasma nucleic acids. These biomarkers are envisioned to be crucial to the optimal clinical development of molecularly targeted drugs, allowing, initially, patient enrichment and then patient selection to maximise patient benefit and accelerate anticancer drug development. Inherent to the development of such rationally designed drugs is the concept of personalized medicine, or molecular stratification, to try and give the right patient the right treatment based on molecular data.
Molecular targeted therapies differ from traditional treatments such as chemotherapy in that they are designed to act on only cancer cells and minimise damage to healthy cells. This is the ‘Holy Grail’ of cancer medicine, killing the tumour cell while sparing the cells of the patient’s normal tissue. Professor de Bono has published a number of papers describing this approach including recent reviews in Nature (de Bono JS and Ashworth A, Nature, 2010) and Nature Reviews Cancer (Yap T, Sandhu S, Workman P and de Bono JS, Nature Reviews Cancer, 2010), and the specific synthetic lethal strategies behind the development of the poly-ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitor olaparib in BRCA carrier patients suffering from cancer (Fong et al, NEJM, 2009; Yap et al, The Cancer Journal, 2011). He was the chief investigator for the first adaptive clinical trial to demonstrate that olaparib has antitumor activity in BRCA mutation carrier patients with ovarian, breast and prostate cancer and that platinum sensitivity parallels to some extent PARP inhibitor sensitivity.
Professor de Bono has been involved in developing more than 100 potential new drugs over the past decade, several of which are now available to patients, and is currently evaluating more than 20 drugs in early clinical trials. One of these drugs is abiraterone, which was designed and first synthesized by chemists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) (Jarman M, Potter G, Barrie E). Trials of abiraterone have not only shown that this drug imparts an overall survival benefit to patients with castration resistant prostate cancer, but has also helped clinically qualify circulating tumour cells, demonstrate that ERG rearranged prostate cancer patients have a higher likelihood of benefit and refute the misnomer ‘hormone refractory’ for describing this disease (Attard G et al, Cancer Research 2009; Attard, Cooper & de Bono, Cancer cell, 2009). Professor de Bono led on the development of both abiraterone acetate and cabazitaxel, taking them from Phase I first-in-man trials to the successful completion of Phase III pivotal trials (de Bono JS et al, NEJM, 2011; de Bono JS et al, The Lancet 2010). These two drugs are changing our understanding and treatment of advanced prostate cancer, with both of these Phase III trials demonstrating an overall survival benefit to advanced, castration resistant, prostate cancer patients. Both drugs have now been approved in the US and Europe for men with metastatic advanced prostate cancer, and abiraterone became available on the NHS in 2012.
Professor de Bono also recently led a Phase III trial for the drug enzalutamide, which also showed a survival advantage in men with advanced prostate cancer compared to a placebo.
Professor Johann de Bono is the Director of the Drug Development Unit at the Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden hospital. Professor de Bono leads the Prostate Cancer Team at the ICR, and specialises in developing new molecular targeted therapies to improve treatment for prostate cancer patients. He has been involved in developing more than 100 potential new drugs over the past decade, several of which are now available to patients, and is currently evaluating more than 20 drugs in early clinical trials. He recently led the pivotal Phase III trials for the prostate cancer drugs abirterone and cabazitaxel, which both showed an overall survival benefit to advanced, castration resistant, prostate cancer patients.
Professor de Bono was born and raised in Malta, and graduated from Glasgow University in 1989 with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery. He became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1992, and completed his PhD and MSc at the Beatson Institute of Cancer Research in Glasgow in 1997. He trained as a medical oncologist between 1996 and 2000, spending part of the time learning about clinical trial design in Seattle, United States. This training led to three years at the Institute for Drug Development in San Antonio, Texas, which Professor de Bono says was an invaluable experience that gave him an “outstanding blueprint” for running similar programs. Professor de Bono joined the ICR and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in 2003 and now holds the role of Professor in Experimental Cancer Medicine and Consultant Medical Oncologist. He took over from Professor Stan Kaye as Head of the Drug Development Unit in 2011. He was awarded the Malta Order of Merit in 2010.
As well as research, Professor de Bono is involved in training and supervising PhD and MD (Res) research students and treating patients with castration resistant prostate cancer. He is the ESMO Director of the Flims Workshop on ‘Methods in Clinical Cancer Research’. He has published more than 170 scientifically peer reviewed manuscripts in journals including The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, The British Medical Journal, The Cancer Journal, Lancet Oncology, Nature, Nature Cancer Reviews, The Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer Research, Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, Annals of Oncology, The British Journal of Cancer and others.
Professor de Bono has received many awards during his career including a Cancer Research Campaign PhD Clinical Research Fellowship; American Society of Clinical Oncology Merit and Young Investigator Awards; The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Clinician Scientist Award and a Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Travel Award. He holds editorial roles at peer-reviewed journals and is a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (London) and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. He has served as the UK European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) representative and has served on the ESMO Board of Directors as well as the NCRI Prostate Cancer Clinical Studies Group.
Professor de Bono is married to Hazel, who is Scottish and works as a family physician, and has three children. He enjoys playing football and watching Liverpool FC, jazz, blues and classical music, and cycling, hill-walking and chess.
Early Anti Cancer Clinical Drug Development
A dedicated inpatient and outpatient facility for the treatment of cancer patients who have advanced cancer with little or no treatment options available.
Novel targeted therapeutics for prostate cancer
Developing novel targeted therapeutics for the treatment of patients with metastatic castration refractory prostate cancer (CRPC).